FORT BRAGG, N.C. - After spending weeks in the kitchen practicing their recipes and perfecting their culinary presentation, 12 Fort Bragg Soldiers stood patiently waiting for a master chef to adjudicate their dishes at a practice cooking show held at Pope Air Base Jan. 12.

The culinary arts team, led by Sgt. 1st Class Rodney L. Lubnow, team captain and culinary arts instructor, 249th Quartermaster Company, consisting of 12 Army cooks from various units on Fort Bragg, have been working on their recipes since Dec. 1, 2008 in preparation for the Department of Defense 34th annual culinary arts competition held at Fort Lee, Va. Feb. 28 through March 13.

"The purpose of this competition is to promote growth in the culinary field, especially as it concerns ability, practicality, nutrition, workmanship, economy, presentation, creativity and concept," explained Master Sgt. Dave Turcottte, the advanced skills sergeant major from Fort Lee and judge in this year's competition.

"This is a great opportunity for the Soldiers. It builds morale and puts a lot of focus on the military food service industry. It brings out the competition but also builds camaraderie, teamwork and cohesion," said Lubnow.

"This competition gives us a chance to show our skills," said Spc. Michael Allen, an appetizer chef for the field team, "We are able to show people that we can do more than just boil water and not burn their food, we really are culinary specialists."

The culinary arts competition, the largest competition of its kind in the United States according to the Department of Defense, has several categories in which teams and individuals can participate, including hot food cooking, patisserie, a team buffet, showpieces and many more. In each category Soldiers will be graded on presentation and general impressions, composition, correct preparation and serving.

"The installation that achieves the highest overall scores will win installation of the year," explained Lubnow, "(Fort Bragg) came in third place last year, but hopes to come in first this year." Turcotte also expects the Fort Bragg team to do well again this year.

"Fort Bragg probably has one of the best programs in the Army," he said. "They have placed in the top three every year."

The competition does more than promote the individual Soldier; it helps bring improvements to the military dining facilities.

"There is so much a Soldier will learn when competing in this competition," said Turcotte. "And at the end of the day, when these Soldiers return to work at their local dining facilities, they will be able to put their new skills to use, improving the dining experience for those who eat there."